NABJ Founder And Journalism Titan Les Payne Dies At Age 76

Les Payne – a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and founder of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), who consistently broke barriers during his 40 plus year prolific career, died at the age of 76 on Monday, March 21. 

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Newsday Journalist, Pulitzer Prize Winner Les Payne Dies at 76

As a young Newsday reporter back in the mid 1990s, Id often walk past the office of the iconic veteran reporter and just peak in to see if I could get a glimpse of the man who was a trailblazer in journalism and a role model and inspiration for so many people of color such as myself.

He once told me, “You have a great opportunity here. The game is changing.” 

I rarely got to see Les because great stories are not found in the office, particularly those impacting people of color. He would hit the pavement and tackle topics that most reporters didnt feel were important enough to cover, but Payne knew as well as anyone that using his position to enlighten people about the conditions and experiences of African-Americans in the city and expose some harsh truths was his calling and he did it as well as anyone.  

Newsday co-publisher Debby Krenek regarded him as a “champion of strong journalism” and noted his “passion for uncovering the truth, no matter how difficult” as an inspiration.

In his early years, Payne served as an information officer for the U.S. Army, running the Command newspaper which was distributed to troops in Vietnam.

Payne was noted by Newsday as a “chronicler of some of the 20th century’s most memorable events as a champion for racial equality.”

KelleyLCarter on Twitter

Very sad to read this news today. #RIP to a journalism giant. xo

Paynes impact on journalism and African-Americans in the craft didnt stop with his written word. He was a role model who also co-founded The National Association of Black Journalists and served as its President. Payne felt it was important for journalists of color who often worked in predominantly white newsrooms to have a place to come together, share stories, build relationships and support systems and also channel the immense talent of these black reporters in one place. 

 NABJ President Sarah Glover said Payne’s work was both inspiring and encouraging.

 “NABJ Founder and President Les Payne was a legendary journalist whose eloquent writing brought passion and truth-telling to an industry too often tone-deaf to the issues impacting communities of color. Payne fought to change that with NABJ’s other illustrious founders,” said Glover.

 “Founder Payne’s bold words and writings showed us why it’s important to be a present black journalist in the newsroom every day. He was a quiet, courageous and loving leader. His legacy lives on in us.”

NABJ Headquarters on Twitter

NABJ remembers Founder and former President Les Payne

 Mr. Payne’s wife, Violet, shared how her late husband was a mentor to younger journalists, and that he maintained high hopes for them. 

 “I feel very humbled to have been his wife. I enjoy hearing about all the people that he inspired. He had such great hope for the younger generation to carry on,” she said.

 Respect to Les Payne, a giant in newspapers and a pioneering reporter who set a lofty standard for generations of African-American journalists and refused to let history forget the importance of people of color in the world. 

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